© Teri Pengilley

We spoke with Meena Kandasamy who was born in Tamil Nadu in 1984. She received her doctorate in sociolinguistics from Anna University, Chennai. Meena has actively sought to combine her love for the written word with the struggle for social justice through poetry, translation, fiction and essays for the last fifteen years.

She wrote her first poems at the age of 17 and published her first volume of poetry in 2006 under the title »Touch«. Even here, she tackled the themes of Indian caste systems and feminism, which became formative for her later work. Although she is the child of an academic and is a researcher herself, she mistrusts a highly intellectual form of expression that to her is inappropriate for the subject of oppression and can by no means be a language of the victims: »My poetry is naked, my poetry is in tears, my poetry screams in anger, my poetry writhes in pain. My poetry smells of blood, my poetry salutes sacrifice. My poetry speaks like my people, my poetry speaks for my people.« The volume of poems has been translated into several languages. 

How many ideas for potential works do you have in your head?

I am working on a novel at the moment, and it will keep me occupied until late next year. It’s a very interesting study of masculinity. I've also spent the last year writing two long form essays, so I keep thinking about whether I should do a themed essay collection at some point. I've not had a book length poetry collection in ten years so I sometimes think about whether I can salvage a book out of the poems that have not been published. 

When working on a new project, how do you sift through competing ideas in order to move forward?

I do try and have a separate notebook for the new project which is different from my regular work notebook. This is so that short-term deadlines, blogging, phone calls and other admin work that writers have to do doesn't spill over. This lets me focus. Within the project itself if I have competing ideas, I'll try them both out and then pick one, or take a week or month-long break from the project to look at it with fresh eyes. If two ideas compete so much, I can safely tell you that a third idea is better. 

What writing habit do you have that you feel is impossible to shift? 

I write better if it is the first thing in the morning, or really, really late at night. I drink a lot of coffee. I write and rewrite and revise like a maniac. I never show my work in progress to anyone except my agent. Because I started as a poet, I'm slightly obsessive about each word and sentence which makes me one of the slowest writers I know. 

The international literature festival berlin (ilb) has become an essential part of the literary calendar of Berlin. What do you connect with the city?

I've had my share of strange and unwelcome experiences in the city, but looking past all of that, I think that what is special about Berlin is the unexpected kindness and warmth of people. The city will always be very close to my heart because I alone was on a residency in LCB (Wannsee) when I realised I was several weeks pregnant -- and everyone stepped in to help me, right from finding a lovely doctor, getting me medical insurance, checking on me regularly and being there for me in case I needed help. It made me realise so much this oft-repeated line about it takes a village to raise a child, but what I loved was how everyone helped me – and these people were not even friends or acquaintances – everyone was helping me in their official capacity as people who ran a residency. That was some incredible kindness and I hope Berlin always remains like that.

© Antonio Olmos/The Observer